Previous Section Index Home Page

25 Feb 2009 : Column 288

There are enormous opportunities for the use of recyclates in products, usually at or near the cost of finding the raw materials from virgin sources. The issue is largely the will to do it and to break the “first mover” cycle of those who say that they cannot supply recycled content products because they cannot get reliable supplies of raw material and, on the other hand, those who say they cannot reliably supply recyclates for manufacture because people will not include recyclates in products. This is of course not true for substantial sections of industry: many manufacturers work hard at including renewables. I applaud the work of those engaged, for example, in the Courtauld commitment on industry recycled content. I commend the work of the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme, which successfully matches up companies that have what they regard as waste with those who can use precisely that waste as a resource in their processes—exactly the sort of circular metabolism set out by the Bill. The work of the Waste and Resources Action Programme in encouraging and developing markets for recyclates is also tremendously important and could be greatly enhanced by a recyclate obligation, increasing on a slope as the market firms and the procedure becomes a commonplace.

What might suitable designated products be? We can think of glass bottle manufacturing using sorted cullet, glass wool for insulation using mixed cullet, road-making material using ground glass and recycled aggregate, breeze block manufacture using recovered ash, street furniture and similar products using recycled low-grade plastic, and yes, items such as recycled high-grade plastic milk bottles. There is also, of course, the manufacture of cardboard and the production of paper, even newsprint—currently highly recycled but using, in some cases, material that we send to Canada and which comes back to us as newsprint. There is a long and wide-ranging list, and the task of the mechanisms set out in the Bill would be to set recyclate content levels achievable from supply of waste and introducible economically into the product cycle.

How Members should not get me wrong: the Bill does not seek to address failure, or a crisis. It seeks to secure the future for successful recycling in the UK by closing the loop, by making sure that as much as possible goes back into the loop of production, consumption, recovery and presentation for reuse, and by making that closed loop resource-thrifty in a world where we are depleting resources such as oil, from which we make plastic a million times faster than we are replenishing it, and carbon-thrifty in a world where we have to reduce radically the amount of carbon we emit to keep the world habitable. It will do so by using the mechanism of market-shaping to secure the market, and in so doing, it will secure our future recycling requirements.

Question put and agreed to.


That Dr. Alan Whitehead, Mr. Martin Caton, Colin Challen, Mr. David Drew, Emily Thornberry, Mr. David Chaytor, Mark Lazarowicz, Mr. Barry Sheerman, Mr. Chris Mullin, Paddy Tipping, Dr. Desmond Turner and Mr. Elliot Morley present the Bill.

Dr. Alan Whitehead accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 8 May and to be printed (Bill 64).

25 Feb 2009 : Column 289

Saving Gateway Accounts Bill

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

Clause 1

Saving Gateway accounts

12.41 pm

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): I join other right hon. and hon. Members in sending my condolences to David and Samantha Cameron on the death of their son, Ivan.

I beg to move amendment 11, page 1, line 15, at beginning insert ‘Subject to subsection (4) below,’.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 12, page 1, line 19, at end insert—

‘(4) If a person was eligible to receive a notice of entitlement by virtue of section 3(1) but had ceased to be eligible before the notice of eligibility was issued, then the person is still entitled to receive that notice.’.

Amendment 3, page 2, line 16, clause 3, after ‘(2)’, insert

‘or the person is aged between 18 and 65 and has an annual income of less than that prescribed by regulations;’.

Amendment 4, page 2, line 35, clause 3, leave out ‘subsection’ and insert ‘subsections (1) and’.

Amendment 13, in page 3, line 3, clause 3, at end insert—

‘(8) The Treasury will each year lay before Parliament a report which sets out the number of people who—

(a) are eligible to hold a Savings Gateway account by being entitled to each of the benefits and tax credits listed in subsection (2) above;

(b) are aged between 18 and 65 years old and earn less than any amount prescribed under regulations made under subsection (4) above; and

(c) have opened a Savings Gateway account in that year.’.

Mr. Hoban: This group of amendments focuses on eligibility, a topic that we discussed at some length during what were relatively short Committee proceedings. Today provides an opportunity to retrace two issues covered in this group of amendments. First is the issue that we debated on the first day of the Committee proceedings about what happens to those who move on and off benefits during the time it takes to send out notices of eligibility. The second issue relates to the fact that the Bill is designed to encourage people on low incomes to save, and the Government use benefit entitlements as their proxy for that group. We need to understand the difference between the number of people who are entitled to receive benefits that effectively passport people on to the savings gateway account and the number of people in the low-income group. I set out two different approaches in amendments 3, 4 and 13 to address that issue.

I shall deal first with amendments 11 and 12. As I said in my opening remarks, they arise from a debate that we had in Committee. The Bill sets out the requirement for someone to be issued with a notice of eligibility on the relevant date, and we debated in Committee at some
25 Feb 2009 : Column 290
length what happens when someone becomes eligible for jobseeker’s allowance at the start of a period just after the last batch of notices have been sent out, then ceases to be eligible for that allowance before the next batch are sent out. Given that the notice of eligibility drives the ability to open a gateway savings account, we identified in Committee the risk that people who have moved on and off benefit between those two dates of issue may well, although eligible to open a savings gateway account in principle, miss out on that opportunity because they did not qualify on the date that the notice was sent out. That is why amendment 12, in particular, focuses on that matter. It would insert a new subsection (4) into clause 1.

That matter was left hanging in Committee. The Economic Secretary assured us that

I have tabled amendment 12 to take that matter a little further today. Since I tabled it, and perhaps even triggered by that, the Minister has kindly written to the Chairmen of the Public Bill Committee and circulated the letter to other Committee members, stating that people who ceased to be eligible by the date on which the notice of eligibility was sent out would still receive that notice. We are grateful for that clarification, but it would be helpful for that to be on the record in the House rather than in a letter. I am sure that he will want to make that clear.

12.45 pm

Amendments 3 and 4 are the first way in which we wish to ensure that people who would be eligible for the saving gateway by virtue of being on low income are picked up by the system. As I said, the Government have used eligibility for certain benefits as the criteria for eligibility for the gateway. That means that only people in receipt of those benefits can take part and qualify for a saving gateway account. There may be people on low incomes who do not qualify for benefits and who will miss out as a consequence.

In Committee, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) tabled amendments intended to increase the number of benefits that would enable eligibility. My amendment takes a different direction. It would set out in the Bill the fact that the group that we are targeting are people on low income. It is worth remembering that some categories of people on low income are ineligible to receive some of the qualifying benefits. For example, somebody who is unmarried, childless and under the age of 25 does not qualify for tax credits. A person on low income below that age would not have a route to access saving gateway accounts, and the same applies to a married couple under that age. In considering how to implement the idea of providing an incentive for those on low income to save, I wonder whether the Government have considered the number of people who fall outside the specified categories and who, despite being on low incomes, will not be eligible because they cannot claim a benefit.

I appreciate that there is a cost attached to my suggestion, because the method that the Government have adopted builds on data that the Government hold either at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or the Department for
25 Feb 2009 : Column 291
Work and Pensions, and it is relatively easy to use the existing databases to send out a notice of eligibility. It would be much harder for the Government to capture people on low incomes who do not qualify for benefits, and it would require a new apparatus of means-testing and forms to be completed when making a claim. The Government might argue that the cost of that additional apparatus is disproportionate to the benefit that it would confer on a new group of recipients, in addition to the costs that would arise through more people saving and qualifying for matching contributions.

The amendment is probing rather than one to be pressed to a vote, but it is also meant to be almost a reserve power that the Government could deploy if they believed that the proportion of people who are brought within the scope of the saving gateway through qualifying for the benefits in clause 3 is too small compared with the total population of people on low incomes whom they feel should benefit. A Government could deploy that power in future.

Part of the challenge is that we do not know what the gap is. We do not know how many people should be eligible on the basis of low income and how many are eligible through passporting benefits. Amendment 13 tries to establish the populations as well as identifying the take-up of the savings gateway account in a particular year. It is important to ascertain the effectiveness of the scheme’s take-up rate. Perhaps the Economic Secretary will be so taken with the logic of amendment 13 that he would like it to be in the Bill.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Amendment 13 is insightful, but proposed new subsection (8)(b) refers to those aged between 18 and 65. In a week when a 13-year-old has fathered a child, will my hon. Friend encourage the Economic Secretary to consider whether people would be eligible at 16 or even younger? I do not suggest 13 as an appropriate age, but 16 might be.

Mr. Hoban: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I wish I had consulted him before tabling the amendments—perhaps I could have benefited from his wisdom in setting a more flexible starting date for the benefits. I am not sure how 13-year-old fathers fit into the benefits system and whether, as a consequence of claiming tax credit, they would be eligible for a notice to be issued to them under the Bill. However, my hon. Friend makes an important point about understanding who will be excluded from the measure through the Government’s criteria. It is important to tease that out from the Economic Secretary today. I do not believe that we addressed it specifically in Committee. Given the aim of the measure, which is to encourage people on low incomes to save, it is important to understand how many people who are on low income but not eligible for benefits will be excluded from participating in the saving gateway account.

The five amendments are straightforward. Two of them give the Economic Secretary the opportunity to put on record the assurances that he gave the Committee in writing. The other three try to probe how many people will be excluded from participating in the Bill, despite being on low income, because of the route that the Government have chosen of using qualification for existing benefits to establish their entitlement to the saving gateway account.

25 Feb 2009 : Column 292

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): The Committee stage was consensual, but that does not mean that the Bill could not be improved a little, certainly by one addition. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary will recollect that I tabled an amendment in Committee to include recipients of carer’s allowance among those who were eligible for saving gateway accounts. The Liberal Democrats tabled a similar amendment. I have not tabled such an amendment on Report, and Mr. Speaker would rule me out of order if I sought to debate the merits of including carers in the scheme.

I believe that the amendments that the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) has tabled, however, would bring some carers within the ambit of the Bill and make them eligible for the saving gateway account. Amendment 13, which calls on the Government to publish an annual report of account recipients or those who are eligible for the accounts, would allow us to calculate how many carers had been excluded from such accounts, even though we would rather want such people to get the accounts.

I am using that proposal as an excuse to give my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary the opportunity to tell us, hopefully, that the Government intend to table an amendment at some point in the Bill’s passage, presumably in the other place, to include recipients of carer’s allowance. I understand that he might wish to limit the provision to carer’s allowance recipients of working age because, after all, saving gateway accounts are aimed at people on low incomes who are of working age. I would be happy to accept that, but I would be most grateful if he confirmed whether he intends to table such an amendment.

Having said that, I apologise to colleagues in all parties and to the Economic Secretary; a group of girl guides from my constituency wants to see me at 1 o’clock and I know that hon. Members will not want me to disappoint them. If I do not hear my hon. Friend’s response, I assure him that I will read it assiduously afterwards, and I will be back as soon as I have spoken to my constituents and presented them with the awards that they have come here to receive.

I hope that my hon. Friend can comment on the important issue of carers’ eligibility to take up the wonderful opportunity that the Government are giving those on low incomes.

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): Without the distraction of girl guides, I can give my full attention to the important considerations before us. I have some sympathy with the comments of the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) about carers and I am interested in the Economy Secretary’s view, because carers seem to be a group that could be included, and many people who fall into that category but not into others that would make them eligible, would appreciate such a gesture. If the Economic Secretary could outline the cost implications of extending the scope of the Bill in the way that the hon. Member for South Thanet suggests, that would be interesting for everybody who has followed the Bill’s passage.

The points about eligibility, which amendments 11 and 12 cover, have already been made, and I have nothing to add to the comments of the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), who tabled all the amendments in the group.

25 Feb 2009 : Column 293

I have some sympathy with amendments 3 and 4. I assume that the motivation is to try, when possible, to avoid introducing legislation that creates poverty traps, which lead to what some people call a benefit culture, whereby those who are able just to provide for themselves but are on low incomes are eligible for far fewer benefits or means of support from the state than those who do not make that effort. The former come to regard themselves, with some justification, as being penalised for just about managing to provide for themselves, while others, whom they perceive as striving less hard to be self-reliant, qualify for a greater range of benefits than them. If that is the motivation, I have some sympathy with it, because it is a justifiable grievance. However, there are some concerns, and it would be interesting to know the Economic Secretary’s estimate of the number of additional people who would be covered if the amendment were accepted. Would it be a small top-up or are we considering having many tens or even hundreds of thousands of extra people? Obviously, that would have considerable cost implications.

The hon. Member for Fareham cited the example of someone under 25 without children not qualifying for the tax credits. However, I am struggling slightly to think of large numbers of people whose incomes mean that they would be caught by the amendments but are not eligible for benefits. If people can give further examples, that would be interesting.

I suppose that, as a spokesperson for an Opposition party, I should support amendment 13, because Opposition parties are always in favour of the Government being compelled to make more reports to Parliament. Were I pushed to take a view, I suppose I would say that the amendment was a good idea, but I would not be surprised if the Economic Secretary perceived it as a bit onerous. When we pass legislation, we tend to forget about it and move on, but it would be useful and interesting to know how successful the legislation has been and how many people have been enticed by the scheme, so I hope that the Economic Secretary will engage constructively with amendment 13.

1 pm

John Howell (Henley) (Con): A number of hon. Members have pointed out that there was a high degree of consensus on the Bill in Committee. One area where there was perhaps less consensus, and where there is still lingering disappointment, is the extent of continuing parliamentary involvement in and scrutiny of the Bill. I suspect that that sense is likely to arise again today over the third group of amendments, given that we spent considerable time in Committee considering whether much of the delegated legislation should be subject to affirmative or negative resolutions. The essence of that debate also applies today; indeed, it is what lies behind amendment 13, which I am happy to support.

Next Section Index Home Page